Could gardening be the secret cure for post traumatic stress disorder?
My best pal Graham would rather go to the dentist than do some gardening.
His idea of a nice summer Sunday is to sit in the shade reading a book or listening to his iPod. In contrast last weekend I toiled like a dog under a relentless sun, mowing the lawn, planting plants, pulling up weeds, shifting pots, turning the compost heap and seeding a bare patch of lawn. I kept at it for hours. By the end I was exhausted – but happy.
There is ample evidence that getting out in the fresh air and among the greenery is not only good for the soul but good for your health. So a few days ago a pioneering team published their inspiring book Grounding, which tells how gardening is being used by an NHS Trust as therapy for war-scarred refugees.
The South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust is working with the Maudsley Charity and the Lambeth-based horticultural project Roots and Shoots to use flower power to beat post traumatic stress disorder.
The patients have all suffered traumas such as war, torture, imprisonment, trafficking and even slavery.
But SLM clinical psychologist Dr Gemma Eke, who wrote the book with colleague and horticultural therapist Myriam Sarens, said: “The garden is a peaceful and relaxing place where healing can happen. It is also far less stigmatizing than an institutional environment, such as a hospital.”
In this south London oasis the simple act of tilling the soil and cultivating fruit and veg is helping to heal broken spirits. A former colleague of the authors, Dr Katy Robjant, said: “The very essence of this project is that where there is growth there is life – and the chance to care again for that life.”
The participants back the theory. A 46-year-old woman who fled Sierra Leone said: “In the hospital you think ‘I’m sick’. Here it makes me feel I am working to make myself better.”
A 52-year-old Sri Lankan man said: “I have chronic pain. Everything is tied in with the torture and my health. But seeing the corn grow I see even though we can get demolished in life, we grow again.”
A 42-year-old West African woman said working in the garden gave her “a feeling of nature” that “gives you a clear head”.
Happily, most of us haven’t been through the sort of hell that these men and women have endured but anxiety and stress are everywhere. And if gardening can give peace of mind to war victims, imagine what it can do for the rest of us – even if it involves just nurturing a few pots on a balcony.